In 2 days’ time, it will be Thanksgiving, and it will also be the 2nd anniversary of Nathan’s death. I wanted to tell a special story that is hard for me to write, but I also think God planned as an allusion to our life together, to our lives apart where I still fight the battle while Nathan stands with the great cloud of witnesses, and to a hint of the life He has planned for us in Heaven, which will no doubt include, the reunion of families that were torn apart on earth. I can only imagine, but this I know, the greatest is still yet to come. And on a day created for giving thanks to God, but the same day that a big part of me revolts and wants to make me hate this day forever, I will thank Him for this. Thank You, God, for all that You have given, but, mostly, thank You that the greatest is still yet to come…
The weekend Nathan died, we had gone to Nate’s father’s house for Thanksgiving. We’d visited 2 or 3 times, including a stay in the loft of the barn for a few weeks the summer before (re: The Woodrat). I never got to see Nathan much when we went to his father’s house, as he was always out helping his father with manual labor things that needed doing on a large property, but we usually got in some alone time by going fishing in the [what I now consider to be cursed] lake across the street or by walking in the woods. But this year was different, because there was a little 3 month old boy that wasn’t quite equal to the task of fishing yet and wanted his mama to feed him every hour, so we didn’t get to go fishing together. By the end of our vacation, I felt I had hardly seen Nate in 4 days and wanted him to walk with me.
We were leaving the next day, and though he had promised me a walk, he had spent the whole day out and about again. He had invited one of his best friends, Matt, to come out to spend the night, and was excited about taking him fishing the next morning. I watched as the day waned, the sun started to go down, and the air turn brisker. There was a cold front coming in, as well as a good friend showing up at any moment, and my hopes for our private walk were distinguishing. So, I thought, we’ll return home to the daily grind of work and life without any time together on our much needed vacation. Disappointed and a little pouty, I took the fussy and tired baby to the back bedroom to nurse him to sleep.
Nate noticed my demeanor, which reminded him of his promise for a walk, and feeling a little badly he had waited so long, came in to smooth talk me. He walked in and gave me a kiss as I was laying on my side in the bed nursing the mostly sleeping baby. I remember he laughed a little with fatherly pride as Jack made sweet baby sucking noises, and put his hand on his son’s head.
“He’s such a content baby, Lauren. I think it’s because your such a good mother…” Then he looked into my eyes, and started on a monologue that lasted at least 5 minutes about how much he loved me and every reason why. Lest you begin to think he was Perfect Husband Incarnate and these were our normal conversations, I will say you are wrong, though he told me he loved me regularly. Most of the time, I spent my wiley womanish ways attempting to get him to tell me everything I ever wanted to hear: how his eyes stung with reflecting upon my unmatched beauty, how my sharp wit chopped his mind to pieces, and how he was, even after 3 years, unable to cope with his love for me that consumed his every thought and feeling. I aimed high and therefore managed to get many wonderful blessings from my husband that were more on the plane of reality, but, for a conversation such as the one he freely gave me that night, I usually had to work hard. This night, however, he pulled out all the stops to try to woo me.
At the end of his monologue, he had softened me significantly, and he knew it because he could read me like an open book. So he finished his award-winning speech by giving me a dashing smile, and whispered, “Come for a walk with me, Lauren.”
I was so overly elated at his speech and his eyes staring romantically at mine that I could feel myself begin to smile back, and I still wanted to act pouty. So I sucked in my cheeks while instead my nostrils flared out involuntarily at the effort to appear unmoved. “Nathan, it’s cold outside. Matt’s going to be here any minute. It’s already too dark to go for a walk. And Jack’s sleeping, so I just want to sleep here with him.” Nathan may have given an award-winning speech, but I could win awards for my whining. But his eyes never turned from my face and his smile never faded. “Sabrina said she would watch Jack. It’s not too dark yet. Matt can wait. And I’ll keep you warm. Come for a walk with me.”
Strength…to…withstand…fading…fast…Spotting my crumbling fortitude, Nate pulled in the clencher– the line from Song of Soloman he quoted to propose to me– and said, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one. Come with me.”
With that, I was up and as long as I shall live I will always thank God that the same scripture that began our union together was also the one that began our last walk.
After piling on layers, boots, and coats, we stepped outside. It was twilight, and through the quiet and calm, all had the feeling of the world winding down from the day. We leisurely stopped by a puddle at the edge of the woods, and pointed out frogs in the water. We walked a little farther, and I saw a mushroom like ones we had gathered and eaten the summer before. He smiled quietly, proud of my growing knowledge in wild things, and then started on the trail. For the rest of the walk, Nathan and I didn’t say anything more to each other, but more was communicated than I could ever adequately describe.
I remember looking down at his feet as he led me along the trail. They were so steady and sure, he was always most at home walking trails. I loved how he could find the most hidden trail, follow it like an Indian, and, most of all, I loved to follow behind him as he led me, because I never knew what adventure he was leading me on. He had been missing me over the weekend too, and didn’t want to just walk ahead of me. So he reached back and took my hand, and we walked hand in hand like that with him reaching behind and me holding his hand with both of mine. There would be a big log, he would step over, then reach back to help me over like a gentleman… The trail would come close to the edge of a ravine it backed against, he would put his arm across the outside of me to protect me from falling… It would go up a steep, wet incline, he would kick out footholds for me in the earth, or have me step on top of his feet if he knew it was too slippery for me. But he always held my hand.
Halfway, we came to a point where a humongous old-growth tree had fallen across the ravine, and it made a mossy tree bridge. The huge stump was left sticking up out of the ground, 10-12 feet high, and hollow inside, for the old tree had rotted from the inside out. The roots were so tall, they actually made a doorway, and we went inside the treehouse and explored. He climbed to the top and looked out over the ravine quietly, as I sat down below and looked up at him. After awhile, he climbed down, and gave me an absentminded kiss as he walked out. I followed him out, and he helped me get down a slope to where the tree bridge began at the edge of the ravine.
I could tell me wanted me to go with him out on the bridge, but I was too afraid. So he let go of my hand, and quietly walked out to the middle of the bridge. He just stood there, brooding, for what seems like a long time now. I’ll never forget the last great image of my husband there. He wore an Indiana Jones hat, coveralls that he would be unable to unzip with frozen hands the next morning as he tread frozen water, and hiking boots, now tucked neatly away in a chest at the foot of my bed, with the fishing wire that dragged him downwards into the water still wrapped tautly around the left ankle. He stood still as a statue on that bridge and looked out contemplatively over the ravine and the world. He was so handsome and strong, but I couldn’t go out on the bridge with him.
It was reflecting upon this image of Nathan the other day that I put something together. My mother told us when we were engaged that she had had this thought that Nathan would be the “Watchman on the Wall” for our family. She always stuck with it, and even in her funeral speech for Nathan, she called him the “Watchman on the Wall”. To be honest, it never had any significant meaning for me. I mean, yeah, I thought he was the Watchman on the Wall for us, because he looked out for us and protected us and all that. But I couldn’t really connect it to him, and wondered why she felt so fervently like God had given it to her. I had always been hesitant to write about our last walk together and never felt the timing was right… until I thought about our last walk as our life together. And I saw Nathan standing on that bridge that I couldn’t go out on, and he was watching so fervently, so calmly, so contemplatively. Then, I knew my mother had been right all along…While Nathan was the Watchman on the Wall for us it in our life together, for the remainder of it he will be watching and praying for us from the perspective that one can only have if they are higher than the ground level. Nathan is the Watchman on the Wall for our family from Heaven now, and he was always going to be, even before we were married.
After awhile, Nathan walked off the bridge and I climbed up a hill ahead of him. We came to a clearing in the trees, and he reached out and grabbed ahold of my coat. I turned around, and realized he wanted to hold me for awhile. So I went to him and curled up into his chest while he held me. We hugged like that for a long time. We hugged so long we even swayed and slowly danced a little after awhile. I was listening to his heart beat, and he smelled my hair, and we were content. Looking back on it, it was a wonderful Goodbye Hug. A Goodbye Hug where neither of us knew we were saying goodbye, but just thought we were saying we loved each other without words. It was the last time we would really be together, but I imagine our Hello Again hug will be much the same one day.
After that, the sun finally went to sleep. Nate, the wild Indian man, chose a mysterious path through the woods that must’ve only existed for the rest of that day before growing over again, because I went out to find it many times over the next few days when I needed to get away from people and never found it. But that night, it led us all the way home where the rest of the family and good friends were waiting for us.
Lord, I haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving since the weekend Nathan went Home, but I want You to know that I give thanks for all my beautiful blessings, and even for the things that I don’t understand. Thank You for it all.
Happy Heaven Day, Nathan.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.